Doodles and Synaesthesia

WHR March 2003



whcmm poetry selections
marlene mountain, editor
paul conneally, editor

A fascinating programme from the bbc on synaesthesia – where people might hear colours etc a kind of merging linking of the senses – i found deep associations with some aspects of renku linking also interesting terms of haiku/haibun written in response to sound/music rather than visual.

The programmes (there are two) can be linked to from the above page and heard as a real audio file – I hope that some of you might listen to it and enjoy it (4,5)

– are any of you blessed with synaesthesia?

much love,

paul conneally (1)

a construction
by DW Bender
haiku april 28th 2001
prose (with revisions) january 18th 2003
arrangement by DW Bender & paul t conneally


The bell of the temple is silent,
But the sound continues
Coming out from the flowers

Matsuo Basho (2)

From time to time synaesthesia is mentioned in relationship to haiku and particular haiku by classic poets. One should consider the original with the translations, as one Japanese haiku, written in characters, may be interpreted in various ways…

suzushisa yakane wohanarurukaneno koe

As the bell tone fades,
Blossom scents take up the ringing,
Evening shade.

Matsuo Basho

…therefore translations differ. The “bell /blossom” haiku by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) has been interpreted as an “incredibly synaesthetic experience”  [Odin 1984], but researchers in the field are doubtful that he actually had synaesthesia.

Temple bells die out.
The fragrant blossoms remain.
A perfect evening!

Matsuo Basho (4)

I’m not synaesthetic that I know of. I saw five 2’s right off in the Ed Hubbard 5-2 pop out test for ‘grapheme-colour’ synaesthesia, but no colors.(4b,5)

I always wondered
how the sky would taste
blue popsicle

But I do have sensory, or intuitive “atmospheres” akin to or in addition to emotional feelings which can sometimes be dramatic, other times subtle…

black ink
how painted lines
on paper move me

…in response to hand-drawn or hand-painted lines, numbers, letters, writing, symbols, sounds, musical notes or chords, colors and any number of things.

April morning
the coolness of grass
also feels green

It would probably not be classified as synaesthesia, but I think most people might have the same sort of responses which can be mood-altering, or which are a sort of creative-connectivity.

even the sun
is not as yellow
new dandelion

By whatever creative vehicle a person develops or expresses him/herself, these atmospheres, feelings and connections might be the inner-inspirator.

O orange
your name sounds
so round

This could be “heightened sensual awareness”,  which may be developed by artists and other creatives…(4a)

red rose
in you every color
but the one you wear

I recalled a haiku series I’d made last year from some of my poems on color, which relates to synaesthesia and/or heightened sensual awareness and it came to mind when reading the articles on synaesthesia.

what is purple?
the scent of lavender
or a fresh bruise

I’ve found it in my files and write them here to share with you…

the white space
on the side of this page
invites doodles

1. WHChaibun Message 1676
From:  “Paul Conneally”
Date:  Sat Jan 18, 2003  10:40 am
Subject:  synaesthesia


“Of course, we are all familiar with one type of pseudosynaesthesia: metaphor. That’s right, the literary device that teachers once pounded into your head often takes on a synaesthetic quality. Critics differ as to whether the extremely vivid forms of synaesthetic metaphor should be attributed to the author’s actually being synaesthetic, or whether the author was merely trying to achieve a synaesthetic-like experience. Of course, the two ideas are not mutually exclusive; the author may have had synaesthesia, and then tried to reproduce his sensations for the rest of the world to know.


The Japanese Haiku poetry of Basho (1644-1694). We have only the inference made by Odin (1984) concerning the transitions made in Basho’s work from one sense modality to another. For instance, he quotes as “an intensly synaesthetic experience of nature” the following:

As the bell tone fades,
Blossom scents take up the ringing.
Evening shade.

Odin suggests that “the reverberating sound of a fading bell tone merges with the fragrant perfume of flower blossom, which in turn blends with the shadowy darkness of evening shade”. Our experience of individuals with synaesthesia has been that auditory stimulation at once gives rise to the visual synaesthesic percept. Therefore the temporal progression from the ringing of the bell tone to the ‘ringing’ of blossom scents seems to suggest that Basho is relating metaphor rather than a genuine synaesthesic percept. This does not necessarily mean that Basho did not have synaesthesia, simply that there is no conclusive evidence either way. …”


Science: HEARING COLOURS, EATING SOUNDS, BBC Radio 4, Presenter: Georgina Ferry, writer and broadcaster.

(a) Pale yellow Cs, turquoise Thursdays and wine-flavoured Vs

“…there are many who deliberately cultivated a heightened perception for extra artistic effect: our culture is littered with poets, artists and musicians, including Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Kandinsky, Messaien and Scriabin who have claimed to have synaesthesia. Today, thanks to fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), neuroscientists are able to prove that synaesthetic experience is a genuine phenomenon. …”

(b) Synaesthetic Perception

“If you think you may have ‘grapheme-colour’ synaesthesia – seeing specific colours in response to specific letters and numbers – take a look at this ‘pop-out’ test (courtesy of Ed Hubbard). It’s not an acid test for synaesthesia, but grapheme-colour synaesthetes should quickly be able to distinguish a shape among the numbers.

How quickly do you see the ‘2’s among the ‘5’s? …”


V.S. Ramachandran and E.M. Hubbard
Synaesthesia — A Window Into Perception, Thought and Language

“We investigated grapheme–colour synaesthesia and found that: (1) The induced colours led to perceptual grouping and pop-out, (2) a grapheme rendered invisible through ‘crowding’ or lateral masking induced synaesthetic colours — a form of blindsight — and (3) peripherally presented graphemes did not induce colours even when they were clearly visible. Taken collectively, these and other experiments prove conclusively that synaesthesia is a genuine perceptual phenomenon, not an effect based on memory associations from childhood or on vague metaphorical speech. …”


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1 Response to Doodles and Synaesthesia

  1. Pingback: A Feast of the Senses Submission Call – Cafe Haiku

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